the Indian head bobble

Part 5 in a series, #return to India.

The Indian head bobble is one of the first things you notice, a ubiquitous nonverbal that is neither yes nor no.

It could be either, actually, but I usually take it to mean “yes, I heard you,” and not “yes, I agree with you.” It is non-committal and a little disconcerting for westerners—but as natural as breathing for them. I saw toddlers doing it.

It is not just a way of avoiding commitments, however; it is also a way to keep from making your conversational partner—or your boss— uncomfortable.   They don’t want to say you have a really bad idea.   So they acknowledge you had an idea and then they ignore it.   Depending on the context, it can also mean no without having to say “no.”

More likely it means “who knows?” This is not as odd as you think. Indian are extremely fatalistic. If everything you hoped for can be washed away in a monsoon, if there are thousands of somewhat capricious gods in your religion (Hinduism), if the centuries have taught you nothing is certain, or if the person you are talking to might be (or is) a god, a little nonverbal ambiguity is called for. It is our absolute certainty about everything that is perplexing.

Not that it feels ambiguous to them. It occurs in a rich context that recognizes many nuances, including sometimes just a friendly greeting: “I mean you no harm.”

The head bobble occurs everywhere, all the time, often completely unconsciously. It is a useful way to say a lot of things.

Or perhaps to say nothing at all.

Advertisements

About wally metts

Wally Metts is the daysman. He is director of graduate studies in communication at Spring Arbor University and is a pastor at Countryside Bible Church in Jonesville, MI. The father of four adult children, he and his wife Katie raise barn cats and Christmas trees in Michigan. His grandchildren call him Santa.

No comments yet... Be the first to leave a reply!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: